GUESS WHO'S 30 years old this year? While your first answer is probably "The Monkees!", let me suggest there's another correct answer just south of Westminster, right next to Landon Burns Park (no relation).
It's the Carroll County Farm Museum, nee county almshouse, that continues to be the county's top tourist attraction and premier cultural resource.
The complex of red buildings on 140 acres of suburban landscape is the popular center for festivals and exhibitions through most of the year. The Farm Museum is also an educational treasure for schoolchildren and adults alike, nurturing and handing down the crafts and folkways of 19th century rural life.
It is working farm, museum, living history workshops and information center, and a grand place to spend the day any time of year. There are even wintertime events, such as the Victorian Christmas and Holiday Visit activities.
All of the events held at the Farm Museum evoke a spirit of yesteryear, or of Carroll's strong agricultural heritage.
Whether it's antiques or old-time steam engines, Civil War re-enactments or traditional country music, forgotten 1800s farm crafts or modern wine-making, the Farm Museum is a magnet for tourism.
Everyone has his favorite event. I admit to being partial to the Deer Creek Fiddlers Convention, with its exciting folk and bluegrass music, and the Maryland Wine Festival, which showcases the fruits of the state's winemaking and viticulture.
The Wine Festival, which observed its 13th anniversary two weeks ago, is the most popular single event for paying crowds. The two-day fete draws more than 20,000 people in good weather, which is always in question even in late September, as it was this year.
While the number of wineries has shrunk a bit in recent years due to economic factors, the overall quality of the wine from the remaining nine producers has improved. But the festival is not just a get-together for serious enologists. It's an occasion for popular education and enjoyment.
The top 100 festivals
The festival's popularity continues to grow, far beyond the borders of Maryland. A national travel association has named it one of the top 100 festivals in North America, which will give the Maryland Wine Festival even more widespread national publicity.
That promotion will also deservedly benefit the Carroll County Farm Museum. For much of the wine celebration's enduring success is due to the amiable setting and to the tourism efforts of Carroll County, happily within an easy drive of the established wineries.
The festival is the creation of the Carroll County tourism office, organized in 1984 at Union Mills Homestead and relocated the next year to the Farm Museum.
Booming attendance forced the event to expand to two days, overflow parking behind the pond was added, then satellite parking with shuttle buses. There has been talk of extending it to three days. The museum is part of the county's Parks and Recreation Department, which earns a pretty penny from the wine event.
But the Farm Museum is a year-round attraction for historical activities. It does not depend on a single event; in fact, the staff is hard pressed to squeeze in something new on the calendar. The huge Independence Day celebration was moved from the Fourth of July to the nearest weekend because of the time and effort needed for preparations.
The museum hosts special events for seniors and for children, provides tours for school classes and gives workshops in such old-time skills as blacksmithing, basket weaving, the needle arts and taffy making.
A particular favorite of Carroll youngsters is the Living History Camp, three week-long sessions for elementary school children held in summer. The 1800s immersion course teaches them about life on a 19th century farm, complete with many of the chores, from cooking and washing to animal care and fence painting. It's so popular that names are drawn by lottery to participate; older kids vie to serve as helpers.
With its rapidly growing and changing population, Carroll is fortunate to have such an active, faithful guardian of its farm history. People without farming roots can readily appreciate rural life of the past century from a tour of the Farm Museum and the demonstrations of its enthusiastic preceptors.
For visitors outside Carroll, the museum offers an interesting introduction to the county's rural heritage and present-day charm.
The economic impact of tourism on Carroll County today is estimated at roughly $40 million annually. More than half of that is linked in some way to agriculture -- Sunday drivers in the countryside, produce stand sales, farming festivals. And the Farm Museum, which remains the top tourism destination for visitors.
That may have been a distant hope in the minds of the county fathers when they closed the 111-year-old "poor house" and its working farm in 1965, and turned it into a living museum the next year. That initial planting has yielded years of bounty for Carroll.
Mike Burns is The Sun's editorial writer in Carroll County.
Pub Date: 10/06/96